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Do You Hear What I Hear? It's A Holiday Music Preview!

By Alexander Hough in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 10, 2009 8:20PM

Chicago Sinfonietta performs Wednesday (Photo from the Sinfonietta's website)
Judging from the extremely high percentage of Christmas music being played at this season's holiday concerts, it looks like the godless Left and the Jews are losing the War on Christmas. But fear not, infidels, the battle may be lost, but the war is far from over. Courage!

In the meantime, let's all admit we like Christmas carols - at least when they haven't been Weather Channel-ified and piped throughout the fifth store you've been to to try to find something for your boss and damn it I don't care anymore I'm just buying the next thing I see that is less than $20. Here are some highlights of coming concerts!

"The Nutcracker"
"A Christmas Story" is a great movie. But after a few hours of TBS's Christmas Eve/Day 24-hour marathon (now in its thirteenth year!), you don't want to see it again for at least a year.

That's exactly how gigging classical musicians feel about "The Nutcracker." It's a great piece of music, and nothing embodies the Christmas season quite like Tchaikovsky's ballet, but, seriously, check out a sampling of your local options: Joffrey Ballet (December 11-27; $25-$100), the Civic Ballet (December 12-13, 19-20; $20-$35), the Chicago Festival Ballet (December 13, 18-20; $25-$37), a dance-along version (December 13 and 20 at Dance Center Evanston), a Chicago neighborhood-specific version ("A Bronzeville Nutcracker" on December 11 and 12; $25), a version on horseback (now through January 9 at the Noble Horse Theatre; $14-$25) - or you can just go to the website devoted to listing "The Nutcracker" performances (although, beware, it's not comprehensive). So, basically, if you were wondering where your musician friends have been, now you have your answer.

Our favorite rendition of "The Nutcracker," however, is Duke Ellington's arrangement. For our money, it's the best Christmas music out there. You can check out a version of it this Saturday morning at the Music Institute of Chicago (in Evanston). Axiom Brass and Quintet Attacca will perform a show that bounces between the original Tchaikovsky and the Ellington take, with dancing by Dance Chicago and soloists from the Moscow Ballet (who, by the way, is performing "The Nutcracker" in Rosemont this Sunday).

And speaking of quintessential Christmas music, there's also George Frederic Handel's "Messiah," "The Nutcracker"'s older, religious brother. "Messiah" is actually about Jesus' resurrection, not his birth, but, hey, 'tis the season to not nitpick. The Apollo Chorus will give two performances of the entire piece, this Saturday at 3:00 p.m. at Symphony Center ($16-$75) and Sunday, December 20, at 3:00 p.m. at the Harris Theater ($35-$50).

Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
The CSO and Chorus give their 15th annual "Welcome Yule!" show. The first half will tell the story of the first Christmas, and the second half will concern itself with Santa's transportation troubles. With few outliers, the music will be traditional Christmas favorites, and will be augmented by actors and dancers. Performances run from December 18 through 23, with tickets between $20 and $98.

On the Ecumenical Side of Things...

  • Chicago Sinfonietta
    On Wednesday, December 16, at the Harris Theater, the Chicago Sinfonietta will present their "Global Holiday Celebration." The program will be a melting pot, with Jewish, African, Asian, and Indian music in addition to Christmas tunes, as well as new, multiethnic versions of traditional songs. If you know of another holiday celebration that'll include taiko drums, please tell us about it. Tickets ($25) are still available.
  • Polish Christmas Music
    If you still have some Christmas spirit left on December 27, head to Symphony Center to see the musicians and dancers of the New Lira Ensemble perform Polish holiday music. The concert will have narration (in English) to provide a background of the history and traditions.